New York, July 31, 1790

Hond Sir

I have recd your’s of the 9th inclosing a letter for Mr Chew which I shall forward as you desire.

As far as I have had an opportunity of inquiring I do not find that Coffee can be got here on terms that will make it worth while to prefer it to what can be got in Virginia. The price of brown sugar I have not yet learnt but will attend to your request on that subject

The funding bill has at length passed the two Houses with a qualified assumption of the state debts. of the federal debt are to bear an immediate interest of 6 per ct. and the remaining a like interest to commence in 1800, but in the mean time to be receivable for land. The indents & arrears of interest are funded at 3 per Ct of the state debts are funded at 6 per ct. & at 3 per Ct. The assumption was carried by a small majority in both Houses. Many who voted for it did so on a supposition that it was a lesser evil than to risk the effect of a rejection on the states which insisted on the measure. I could not bring myself to concur with them, but am sensible that there was serious danger of a very unfavorable issue to the Session from a contrary decision, and consider it as now incumbent on us all to make the best of what is done. The truth is that in a pecuniary light, the assumption is no longer of much consequence to Virginia, the sum allotted to her being about her proportion of the whole, & rather exceeding her present debt. She will consequently pay no more to the general Treasury than she now pays to the State Treasy. and perhaps in a mode which will be less disagreeable to the people, tho not more favorable to their true interests

The Ways & means are now under consideration. The impost will be made equal to the federal debt. The provision for the State debts will be put off till the next session. It will be likely to consist chiefly of duties on rum distilled in the U.S. and on a few imported articles that will best bear a further augmentation.

We expect that an adjournment will take place in about a week. I shall set out for Virginia as soon thereafter as I can pack up my books papers &c. which will detain me here some days. Mr. Jefferson wishes me to wait for his setting out and as his company will be particularly grateful & also convenient I am not sure that I shall resist the invitation, if he finds that he can be ready for the Journey within a reasonable time. I shd not hesitate, if I did not wish to be in Orange by the election, tho’ as an attendance cannot be given at more than one of the 8 Counties, it does not seem worth while to sacrifice much to that consideration.

July 15, 1790


—I have formed an opinion, quite satisfactory to myself, that the adjournment of Congress may be by law, as well as by resolution, without touching the Constitution. I am now copying fair what I had written yesterday on the subject & will have the honor of laying it before you by ten o’clock. The address to the President contains a very full digest of all the arguments urged against the bill on the point of unconstitutionality on the floor of Congress. It was fully combated on that ground, in the Committee of the whole, & on the third reading. The majority (a southern one) overruled the objection, as a majority (a northern one) had overruled the same objection the last session on the Susquehanna residence bill. So that two Majorities, in the two different sessions, & from different ends of the Union have overruled the objection, and may be fairly supposed to have declared the sense of the whole Union. I shall not lose a moment in laying before you my thoughts on the subject.

Opinion upon the question whether the President should veto the Bill, declaring that the seat of government shall be transferred to the Potomac, in the year 1790.

A bill having passed both houses of Congress, and being now before the President, declaring that the seat of the federal government shall be transferred to the Potomac in the year 1790, that the session of Congress next ensuing the present shall be held in Philadelphia, to which place the offices shall be transferred before the 1st of December next, a writer in a public paper of July 13, has urged on the consideration of the President, that the constitution has given to the two houses of Congress the exclusive right to adjourn themselves; that the will of the President mixed with theirs in a decision of this kind, would be an inoperative ingredient, repugnant to the constitution, and that he ought not to permit them to part, in a single instance, with their constitutional rights; consequently, that he ought to negative the bill.

That is now to be considered:

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men. When a certain description of men are to transact together a particular business, the times and places of their meeting and separating, depend on their own will; they make a part of the natural right of self-government. This, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or modified in its exercise by their own consent, or by the law of those who depute them, if they meet in the right of others; but as far as it is not abridged or modified, they retain it as a natural right, and may exercise them in what form they please, either exclusively by themselves, or in association with others, or by others altogether, as they shall agree.

Each house of Congress possesses this natural right of governing itself, and, consequently, of fixing its own times and places of meeting, so far as it has not been abridged by the law of those who employ them, that is to say, by the Constitution. This act manifestly considers them as possessing this right of course, and therefore has nowhere given it to them. In the several different passages where it touches this right, it treats it as an existing thing, not as one called into existence by them. To evince this, every passage of the constitution shall be quoted, where the right of adjournment is touched; and it will be seen that no one of them pretends to give that right; that, on the contrary, every one is evidently introduced either to enlarge the right where it would be too narrow, to restrain it where, in its natural and full exercise, it might be too large, and lead to inconvenience, to defend it from the latitude of its own phrases, where these were not meant to comprehend it, or to provide for its exercise by others, when they cannot exercise it themselves.

“A majority of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members.” Art. 1, Sec. 5. A majority of every collection of men being naturally necessary to constitute its will, and it being frequently to happen that a majority is not assembled, it was necessary to enlarge the natural right by giving to “a smaller number than a majority” a right to compel the attendence of the absent members, and, in the meantime, to adjourn from day to day. This clause, then, does not pretend to give to a majority a right which it knew that majority would have of themselves, but to a number less than a majority, a right to which it knew that lesser number could not have of themselves.

“Neither house, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two houses shall be sitting.” Ibid. Each house exercising separately its natural right to meet when and where it should think best, it might happen that the two houses would separate either in time or place, which would be inconvenient. It was necessary, therefore, to keep them together by restraining their natural right of deciding on separate times and places, and by requiring a concurrence of will.

But, as it might happen that obstinacy, or a difference of object, might prevent this concurrence, it goes on to take from them, in that instance, the right of adjournment altogether, and to transfer it to another, by declaring, Art. 2, Sec. 3, that “in case of disagreement between the two houses, with respect to the time of adjournment, the President may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper.”

These clauses, then, do not import a gift, to the two houses, of a general right of adjournment, which it was known they would have without that gift, but to restrain or abrogate the right it was known they would have, in an instance where, exercised in its full extent, it might lead to inconvenience, and to give that right to another who would not naturally have had it. It also gives to the President a right, which he otherwise would not have had, “to convene both houses, or either of them, on extraordinary occasions.” Thus substituting the will of another, where they are not in a situation to exercise their own.

“Every order, resolution, or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment), shall be presented to the President for his approbation, &c.” Art. I, Sec. 7. The latitude of the general words here used would have subjected the natural right of adjournment of the two houses to the will of the President, which was not intended. They therefore expressly “except questions of adjournment” out of their operation. They do not here give a right of adjournment, which it was known would exist without their gift, but they defend the existing right against the latitude of their own phrases, in a case where there was no good reason to abridge it. The exception admits they will have the right of adjournment, without pointing out the source from which they will derive it.

These are all the passages of the constitution (one only excepted, which shall be presently cited) where the right of adjournment is touched; and it is evident that none of these are introduced to give that right; but every one supposes it to be existing, and provides some specific modification for cases where either a defeat in the natural right, or a too full use of it, would occasion inconvenience.

The right of adjournment, then, is not given by the constitution, and consequently it may be modified by law without interfering with that instrument. It is a natural right, and, like all other natural rights, may be abridged or regulated in its exercise by law; and the concurrence of the third branch in any law regulating its exercise is so efficient an ingredient in that law, that the right cannot be otherwise exercised but after a repeal by a new law. The express terms of the constitution itself show that this right may be modified by law, when, in Art. I, Sec. 4, (the only remaining passage on the subject not yet quoted) it says, “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be the first Monday in December, unless they shall, by law, appoint a different day.” Then another day may be appointed by law; and the President’s assent is an efficient ingredient in that law. Nay, further, they cannot adjourn over the first Monday of December but by a law. This is another constitutional abridgment of their natural right of adjournment; and completing our review of all the causes in the constitution which touch that right, authorizes us to say no part of that instrument gives it; and that the houses hold it, not from the constitution, but from nature.

A consequence of this is, that the houses may, by a joint resolution, remove themselves from place to place, because it is a part of their right of self-government; but that as the right of self-government does not comprehend the government of others, the two houses cannot, by a joint resolution of their majorities only, remove the executive and judiciary from place to place. These branches possessing also the rights of self-government from nature, cannot be controlled in the exercise of them but by a law, passed in the forms of the constitution. The clause of the bill in question, therefore, was necessary to be put into the form of a law, and to be submitted to the President, so far as it proposes to effect the removal of the Executive and Judiciary to Philadelphia. So far as respects the removal of the present houses of legislation thither, it was not necessary to be submitted to the President; but such a submission is not repugnant to the constitution. On the contrary, if he concurs, it will so far fix the next session of Congress at Philadelphia that it cannot be changed but by a regular law.

The sense of Congress itself is always respectable authority. It has been given very remarkably on the present subject. The address to the President in the paper of the 13th is a complete digest of all the arguments urged on the floor of the Representatives against the constitutionality of the bill now before the President; and they were overruled by a majority of that house, comprehending the delegation of all the States south of the Hudson, except South Carolina. At the last cession of Congress, when the bill for remaining a certain term in New York and then removing to Susquehanna or Germantown was objected to on the same ground, the objection was overruled by a majority comprehending the delegations of the northern half of the union with that of South Carolina. So that the sense of every State in the union has been expressed, by its delegation, against this objection South Carolina excepted, and excepting also Rhode Island, which has never yet had a delegation in place to vote on the question. In both these instances the Senate concurred with the majority of the Representatives. The sense of the two houses is stronger authority in this case, as it is given against their own supposed privilege.

It would be as tedious, as it is unnecessary, to take up and discuss one by one, the objections proposed in the paper of July 13. Every one of them is founded on the supposition that the two houses hold their right of adjournment from the constitution. This error being corrected, the objections founded on it fall of themselves.

It would also be work of mere supererogation to show that, granting what this writer takes for granted (that the President’s assent would be an inoperative ingredient, because excluded by the constitution, as he says), yet the particular views of the writer would be frustrated, for on every hypothesis of what the President may do, Congress must go to Philadelphia. 1. If he assents to the bill, that assent makes good law of the part relative to the Patomac; and the part for holding the next session at Philadelphia is good, either as an ordinance, or a vote of the two houses, containing a complete declaration of their will in a case where it is competent to the object; so that they must go to Philadelphia in that case. 2. If he dissents from the bill it annuls the part relative to the Patomac; but as to the clause for adjourning to Philadelphia, his dissent being as inefficient as his assent, it remains a good ordinance or vote, of the two houses for going thither, and consequently they must go in this case also. 3. If the President withholds his will out of the bill altogether, by a ten days’ silence, then the part relative to the Potomac becomes a good law without his will, and that relative to Philadelphia is good also, either as a law, or an ordinance, or a vote of the two houses; and consequently in this case also they go to Philadelphia.


July 12, 1790

Heads of consideration on the conduct we are to observe in the war between Spain and Gt. Britain and particularly should the latter attempt the conquest of Louisiana & the Floridas.

The dangers to us, should great Britain possess herself of those countries.

She will possess a territory equal to half ours, beyond the Missisipi.

She will reduce that half of ours which is on this side the Missisipi.

by her language, laws, religion, manners, government, commerce, capital.

by the possession of N. Orleans, which draws to it ye dependence of all ye waters of Misspi.

by the markets she can offer them in the gulph of Mexico & elsewhere.

She will take from the remaining part of our States the markets they now have for their produce by furnishing those markets cheaper with the same articles, tobo. rice. indigo. bread. lumber. naval stores. furs.

She will have then possessions double the size of ours, as good in soil & climate.

She will encircle us compleatly, by these possessions on our land board, and her fleets on our sea-board.

instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we shall have one, with more than the strength of both.

Would the prevention of this be worth a War?

consider our abilities to take part in a war.

our operations would be by land only.

how many men should we need to employ?— their cost?

our resources of taxation & credit equal to this.

Weigh the evil of this new accumulation of debt against the loss of markets, & eternal expence & danger from so overgrown a neighbor.

But this is on supposition that France as well as Spain shall be engaged in the war.

for with Spain alone the war would be unsuccessful, & our situation rendered worse.

No need to take a part in the war as yet—we may chuse our own time.

Delay gives us many chances to avoid it altogether.

In such a choice of objects, Gr. Britain may not single out Louisiana & the Floridas.

she may fail in her attempt on them.

France and Spain may recover them.

if all these chances fail, we should have to re-take them. the difference between retaking, & preventing, overbalanced by the benefits of delay.

Delay enables us to be better prepared.

to obtain from the allies a price for our assistance.

Suppose these our ultimate views, What is to be done at this time?

1. as to Spain?

if she be as sensible as we are, that she cannot save Louisiana and the Floridas, might she not prefer their Independance to their Subjection to Gr. Britain?

Does not the proposition of the Ct. d’Estaing furnish us an opening to communicate our ideas on this subject to the court of France, and thro’ them to that of Madrid? And our readiness to join them in guaranteeing the independance of those countries?

this might save us from a war, if Gr. Britain respects our weight in a war.

and if she does not, the object would place the war on popular ground with us.

2. As to England? say to Beckwith

‘that as to a Treaty of commerce, we would prefer amicable to adversary arrangements, tho’ the latter would be infallible, and in our power: that our ideas are that such a treaty should be founded in perfect reciprocity: and wd. therefore be it’s own price:

that as to an Alliance, we can say nothing till it’s object be shewn, & that it is not to be inconsistent with existing engagements: that in the event of a war between Gr. Britain & Spain we are disposed to be strictly neutral: that however we should view with extreme uneasiness any attempt of either power to seize the possessions of the other on our frontier, as we consider our own safety interested in a due balance between our neighbors’ [it might be advantageous to express this latter sentiment, because if there be any difference of opinion in their councils, whether to bend their force against North or South America, or the islands (and certainly there is room for difference) and if these opinions be nearly balanced, that balance might be determined by the prospect of having an enemy the more, or less, according to the object they should select].


July 8, 1790

Memorandum of the Substance of a Communication made on Thursday, the Eighth of July, 1790, to the Subscriber, by Major Beckwith, as by Direction of Lord Dorchester

Major Beckwith began by stating that Lord Dorchester2 had directed him to make his acknowledgments for the politeness which had been shown in respect to the desire he had intimated to pass by New York in his way to England; adding that the prospect of a war between Great Britain and Spain would prevent or defer the execution of his intention in that particular. He next proceeded to observe, that Lord Dorchester had been informed of a negotiation commenced on the other side of the water, through the agency of Mr. Morris, mentioning, as the subscriber understood, principally by way of proof of Lord Dorchester’s knowledge of the transaction, that Mr. Morris had not produced any regular credentials, but merely a letter from the President directed to himself; that some delays had intervened, partly on account of Mr. Morris’ absence on a trip to Holland, as was understood; and that it was not improbable these delays and some other circumstances may have impressed Mr. Morris with an idea of backwardness on the part of the British ministry. That his lordship, however, had directed him to say that an inference of this sort would not, in his opinion, be well founded, as he had reason to believe that the cabinet of Great Britain entertained a disposition not only toward a friendly intercourse, but toward an alliance, with the United States. Major Beckwith then proceeded to speak of the particular cause of the expected rupture between Spain and Britain, observing it was one in which all commercial nations must be supposed to favor the views of Great Britain. That it was therefore presumed, should a war take place, that the United States would find it to be their interest to take part with Great Britain rather than with Spain.

Major Beckwith concluded with producing a letter, signed “Dorchester,” which letter contained ideas similar to those he had expressed, though in more guarded terms, and without any allusion to instructions from the British cabinet. This letter, it is now recollected, hints at the non-execution of the treaty of peace on our part.

On the subscriber remarking the circumstance that this letter seemed to speak only the sentiments of his lordship, Major Beckwith replied, that whatever reasons there might be for that course of proceeding in the present stage of the business, it was to be presumed that his lordship knew too well the consequence of such a step, to have taken it without a previous knowledge of the intentions of the cabinet.

Major Beckwith afterwards mentioned that Lord Dorchester had heard with great concern of some depredations committed by some Indians on our western frontier; that he wished it to be believed that nothing of this kind had received the least countenance from him; that, on the contrary, he had taken every proper opportunity of inculcating upon the Indians a pacific disposition towards us; and that, as soon as he had heard of the outrages lately committed, he had sent a message to endeavor to prevent them; that his lordship had understood that the Indians alluded to were banditti, composed chiefly or in a great part of Creeks or Cherokees, over whom he had no influence, intimating at the same time that these tribes were supposed to be in connection with the Spaniards.

He stated, in the next place, that his lordship had been informed that a Captain Hait, in our service, and a Mr. Nimble, and indeed some persons in the treaty at Fort Harman, had thrown out menaces with regard to the posts on the frontier, and had otherwise held very intemperate language; which, however, his lordship considered rather as effusions of individual feelings than as the effects of any instruction from authority.

A. Hamilton.


New York, July 4, 1790

Dear Sir,—

You will find by one of the Gazettes herewith sent, that the bill fixing the permanent seat of Government on the Potowmac, and the temporary at Philadelphia, has got through the Senate. It passed by a single voice only, Izzard and Few having both voted against it. Its passage through the House of Representatives is probable, but attended with great difficulties. If the Potowmac succeeds, even on these terms, it will have resulted from a fortuitous coincidence of circumstances which might never happen again.

The provision for the public debt has been suspended for some time in the Senate by the question relating to the seat of Government. It is now resumed in that House, and it is to be hoped will soon be brought to an issue. The assumption sleeps, but I am persuaded will be awakened on the first dawn of a favorable opportunity. It seems, indeed, as if the friends of the measure were determined to risk everything rather than suffer that finally to fail.

We hear nothing further of the controversy between England and Spain.

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